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The tale of how James Squire became Australia’s first brewer is a cracking yarn, a journey full of thievery, dishonesty and, above all, flavour.
Best of all, it’s completely true.
Born in 1754 in Kingston-on-Thames, James Squire’s story has an inauspicious start. A risk taker and a scoundrel, he was arrested for highway robbery at the tender age of 20. He tried to go straight, but by 1785 a few stolen chickens landed him a berth onboard a convict ship with the First Fleet. James was headed for Australia.
Even then he couldn’t stay out of trouble and just a year after his arrival in Port Jackson he was hauled in front of the magistrate for theft. This time we like to consider it a crime for the greater good: James had been stealing hops to brew Australia’s first beer.
And it must have been something special, because he managed to escape execution. Instead he was fined five pounds and sentenced to 300 lashes, 150 lashes now and 150 when he could bear it. Does that number sound familiar?
By 1795 James was a free man and was granted a 30 acre plot of land. With a little skillful swindling, he managed to build up a 1,000 acre estate – the perfect place to grow Australia’s first hops. A decade later, Governor King was so impressed with his work that he gave James a cow and the title of Australia’s first (and finest) brewer.
Now a successful man, James built his brewery and Malting Shovel Tavern on the shore of the Parramatta River at Kissing Point, halfway between the settlements of Sydney Cove and Parramatta. Many a sailor sought refuge here over a refreshing ale while they waited for the tide to turn.
And he wasn’t done yet. In a delightfully ironic contrast to his convict past, James eventually became a district constable.
When he passed away on May 16, 1822, at the age of 67, James Squire was honoured with the largest funeral in the colony’s history. We like to think his friends would have toasted his extraordinary life with a glass (or two) of his finest brew.
James Squire, convict turned Australia’s First Brewer.